Tu b’Shvat in Winter is a Wonderful Thing

Tu b’Shvat in Michigan requires appreciation of snow, roots, cold and anticipation
Aziza learns that trees in winter especially appreciate hugs.
Sappho with a very large Sweetgum tree behind her.
And then Sappho drew it for us.
Jack stayed inside and planted argula….it only took four days to grow this big!
Wes and Wade playing among the winter trees.
Remember what we see above is small compared to what is below.

Find, Listen to, Hug and Bless a Champion Tree!

Written By: Clare Kinberg

American Sycamore –

For Tu b’Shvat this year (January 28, 2021), the AARC Beit Sefer invites the whole congregation to help us appreciate our amazing local trees.

Tu b’Shvat, the Jewish New Year of the Trees, is on the full moon in the Hebrew month of Shvat. We celebrate the trees exactly 7 weeks after the first night of Hanukkah, when the celestial lights are dimmest. Seven weeks later, on Tu b’Shvat, the days have lengthened just enough for the tips of the trees to begin to send messages to their roots, “Begin to awaken….” It is cold outside, but the longer daylight tells the trees — and us — Spring is on its way.

Ann Arbor’s Champion Tree Program identifies and catalogs the largest tree of each species within the city. The program was created in 1995 to highlight and recognize these amazing trees and increase awareness and appreciation for outstanding trees that help make Ann Arbor “Tree Town.” There are currently 60 trees in the Champion Tree Registry. You can find them all listed on an interactive map, with information about each tree here. 

Our Tu b’Shvat plan is that during the week of January 23 through January 30, our member households will each pick one tree (or more if you are ambitious) from the registry, visit it, record in photos, drawings, or video what it looks like, and do the following:

1. Listen to the tree by putting your ear to the bark…can you hear the water beginning to rise?

2. Put your arms around the tree and give it a hug!

3. Bless the tree, as something beautiful, a natural wonder, and as something unique (3 blessings are below):

4. When you get home, write a few sentences describing your tree, and email them to Gillian, along with your photo or drawing, so we can share your experience in a future blog!

  • Blessing on Beauty

Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha’olam shekahcha lo ba’olamo.

Blessed are you, our God, Ruler of the World, who has such as this in the world.

  • Blessing on Seeing Natural Wonders (from Ritualwell)


Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha’olam, oseh ma’aseh v’reshit.

You are blessed, our God, Ruler of the world, Source of creation.


B’rukha At Ya Eloheinu Ruah ha’olam, osah ma’aseh v’reshit. 

You are blessed, our God, Spirit of the world, Source of creation.

  • Blessing on seeing an unusual creature

Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, m’shaneh habriyot.

Blessed are You, our God, Ruler of the Universe, who makes creatures different.

Beit Sefer Hanukkah Mitzvah Project

For the first two weeks in December, our Beit Sefer families collected warm blankets, socks, hats, food, and toiletry items for distribution to people experiencing homelessness in our community. Our youngest class, the Kitanim, and their dedicated and inspiring teacher, Marcy Epstein, initiated this project. Besides gathering the items listed above, the class packaged them in waterproof plastic bags and made sure the packages got to the people in need.

Marcy reported that we gathered over 75 items for the homeless and displaced. Her friend Heidi Alward, the Vice Chair of the Board of the Women’s Center of Ann Arbor (which made sure everything was given out), sent the Beit Sefer a message:

“Wow, thank you, Marcy (and the AARC Beit Sefer)! I am so moved by you and your students and their families’ generosity of spirit. Please tell them that their actions will move people they may never meet and have ripple effects they may never feel, but they have created a positive impact. Beyond the food and materials goods, we have given them a sign that people care, that there is compassion, kindness and love in an often unjust world.”

Marcy taught that giving to people in need can be drawn from the phrase in the fourth book of the Torah, Vayikra/Now God Called (also known as Leviticus) 25:1, “Now when your brother sinks down (in poverty), and his hand falters beside you, then you shall strengthen him (as though) a sojourner and a resident-settler, and he is to live beside you.”

Beit Sefer visits Barn Sanctuary

The month of Elul, when we prepare ourselves for Rosh Hashanah and the Days of Awe, begins with The New Year for the Animals, where we learn about compassion, care, and openheartedness. The Barn Sanctuary in Chelsea, where over 120 rescued farm animals experience love and care, gave our Beit students and teachers excellent examples of compassionate care.

Aharon Varady writes on OpenSiddur: What a better way to begin a month dedicated to humbling ourselves and repairing our relationships than by reflecting first on our relationship with behemah — the domesticated animals which depend on us for their care and sustenance. The category of behemah includes all animals historically bred by humans as domesticated creatures, both kosher and non-kosher, e.g. cats and cattle, dogs and donkeys, goats, pigs, chicken, and llamas. If we can imagine, empathize, and understand the dependency of behemah in our care, how much better can we realize our relationship with blessed Holy One, and the infinite chain of inter-dependencies uniting all living relationships in reflection of this Oneness.

Students and teachers alike were fascinated by the virtual tour. Aaron, Ava, and Noah Jackson

The mission of the Barn Sanctuary: We rescue and rehabilitate abused and neglected farmed animals by creating a safe haven where these individuals can recover and thrive. We envision a world in which farmed animals are seen as individuals and treated with empathy and compassion. 

We learned that turkeys can change the color of their heads based on their emotions, and that turkeys have “accents” so that Michigan turkeys sound different from turkeys from other places

Our virtual tour guide, Sarah Chouinard, did an outstanding job of introducing us to the animals, and attentively answering our students many questions. Sarah spent a full hour with us as we visited chickens, goats, sheep, donkeys and cows in addition to the pigs and turkeys.

We learned that they have about 32 pigs because last year two of the rescued pigs were pregnant, and now they have their (already 200 lb) babies!
As we met the farm animals, our students introduced their stuffed animals who they snuggled with while touring the Barn Sanctuary.

The Barn Sanctuary is a wonderful local organization that we hope you will support. Visit them at barnsanctuary.org

Child and Family Programming for High Holidays 2020

AARC offers an engaging and flexible series of High Holidays learning opportunities and services for children and families, led by AARC Beit Sefer (religious school) Director Clare Kinberg. To take part, please fill out the Child and Family Programming Form; we will respond with the necessary Zoom links.

In order to accommodate the busy schedule of most families, parts of the High Holidays services will be pre-recorded. This allows you to watch the programming at a time that works for your family. Other learning opportunities will take place online via Zoom, to provide our little ones with an opportunity to learn while engaging with one another.


  • Saturday, September 19th, 9:30am. Children’s Activity on Zoom. Fill out the registration form to receive the Zoom link.
  • Saturday, September 19th. Watch Rosh Hashanah Children’s Services at your leisure. Video will be posted here the week before the High Holidays.
  • Monday September 28th, 9:30am. Children’s Activity on Zoom. Fill out the registration form to receive the Zoom link. (You only need to fill out his form once for the High Holidays).
  • Monday September 28th. Watch Yom Kippur Children’s Services at your leisure. Video will be posted here the week before the High Holidays.

If you have any questions about this programming, please email us. We looking forward to sharing this sacred time together!

Rosh Hashanah Children’s Service Video:

Yom Kippur Children’s Service Video:

With safety in mind, Beit Sefer plans Jewish learning

AARC’s Beit Sefer will begin its 2020-21 year on August 23, the first Sunday in the Jewish month of Elul, when Jews around the world are preparing for the Days of Awe, the Yamim Noraim.

Beit Sefer will be different this year, of course. Instead of meeting in person at the Jewish Community Center, we will hold short Zoom classes on Sunday mornings with some dedicated time studying Hebrew with Shani Samuels. These lessons will be augmented by learning in “family chevruta,” for which each family is paired with another for backyard and other outdoor learning activities.

During Elul, our Beit Sefer will undertake an all-school read of Out of the Apple Orchard, a Rosh Hashanah story of mistakes and forgiveness set in the Catskills in 1910.

The school will observe the Rosh Hodesh ElulNew Year of the Animals” with a visit to an animal sanctuary – either in our family chevruta or virtually – and with a shofar blast to wake us up to the coming year!

Our Beit Sefer will also help with several items for the congregation’s “Tishrei Boxes,” kits to help with home celebrations of the High Holidays. We plan to visit a U-Pick orchard (again in our family chevruta) and create Rosh Hashana cards. We will also find and paint small smooth stones to include in each box for the observance of the Yizkor memorial service on Yom Kippur.

All this is just the first month! This Beit Sefer year will wow you with new learning, new creativity, and new togetherness. We look forward to making new experiences and new history with you.

AARC Beit Sefer: Interactive, Cooperative, and Loving.

Written by Beit Sefer Director, Clare Kinberg

AARC Beit Sefer just concluded a year of welcoming: new teacher Marcy Epstein, new students, new members of the congregation and community. Our year was interactive, cooperative, and loving.


Led by congregant and artist Idelle Hammond-Sass, we kicked off the year’s “Welcome” theme by joining the Ann Arbor Jewish Sanctuary and Immigration Network’s “Butterfly Project: Migration is Beautiful, Never Again is Now.” All Beit Sefer students participated to help make tiles and pictures that illustrate the beauty of migration.

Our interactive year continued with a weekend campout at congregant Carole Caplan’s beautiful flower-laden farm, where families, friends, and community members came together to build a sukkah. We ended our “in-person” year with a field trip to the Botanical Gardens for Tu B’Shvat.

Two of our students became bar mitzvah this year. Even with the service and celebration place on Zoom, many other Beit Sefer students and families attended. The b’nai mitzvah services really felt like community events.

The G’dolim, our oldest class, enjoyed the contribution of several parent guest speakers who presented family histories to the class. The Kitanim, our youngest class, invited older members of the congregation into the classroom to share from their lives. The intergenerational experience often included food, song, and stories. 

Anita Rubin-Meiller danced with us and shared stories of her grandparents, her family’s migration to the US, and photographs. She brought her grandmother’s beautiful candlesticks and read a story to the students.

Jack Levin, a visiting grandfather, told stories of Lithuanian journeys, whitefish and pike swimming in bathtubs, and what it feels like to be a boy on the inside and a grandpa on the outside – the enlarging circle of life. 

Lori Lichtman, told stories of her grandmother from Hungary and brought delicious traditional treats.


Our school is built on parent, teacher, and student cooperation. Parents help keep the school running: each family carries out small tasks that bring big benefits. Each week one family brings a snack of challah (or another delicious bread) and fruit for the whole school. The students often enjoy the homemade treats of the deeply appreciated baker-parents. Parents planned the Sukkot campout, and helped with the Purim carnival. Three teens who had recently become b’nei mitzvah helped in the classrooms each week. All this involvement demonstrates to our students that being Jewish is a lifetime commitment expressed in many ways, including the mundane as well as the spiritual.


Beit Sefer is a small school where learning happens with a lot of love. 

Beit Sefer B’Aviv B’Yachad באביב ביחד Sunday Relay

This Sunday, Beit Sefer students participated in a social distancing relay, B’Aviv B’Yachad (Spring Together!), that symbolized our ancestors’ journey through the desert. Education scholar and Beit Sefer teacher Shlomit Cohen created the relay journey with the goals of involving every family, celebrating Spring, and challenging the students (and their families) – all while observing social distancing requirements!

The race began with one family traveling by foot, bicycle, car or wing (?!?) to another family’s home. In front of that home, the traveling family took a photo of themselves and sent it to the group of Beit Sefer students. The arrival of the photo acted as the “baton,” prompting the family whose home was pictured in the photo to set out for the next household. Beit Sefer families are located in a long string between Ypsilanti Township and Chelsea, but the distance from one home to the next was easily manageable. School Director Clare Kinberg separately carried a replica tablet of the Ten Commandments to each household.

Please enjoy photos from each stop below. It was a joy to watch the photos come in over the morning and see the smiling faces in our beloved community.

Does this post inspire you to join Beit Sefer for next year? If so, please check out our religious school’s website!

First stop at the Pritchards’!
Zander and Eleanor thought it was a great day for a bike ride to stop number three.
Stop number three was a surprise!
Cara made scones and then got the sillies.
The Feinbergs were prepared for us!
Lovely to see Ava and Noah, Aaron and Erika on this spring day.
Thanks to Shlomit for planning the whole thing!
After Shlomit, we got to see Marcy’s Spring flowers.
Next stop, Aaron’s house.
Miles got his picture taken and hopped on his bike.
Next stop, Sappho and Bass.
Onward to Jack and Brenna.
Time for a socially distanced group pic.
Next stop Meadows!
We made it to the edge of town – hey, Sam and Joey!
Last stop, Wes and Wade!

Busy Weekend at AARC: Simchat Torah and a Robust Welcoming Event for New and Prospective Members

It was a busy weekend at AARC! We celebrated the Torah with Beit Sefer and held an informational event for new and prospective members.

The room was filled with excitement as the Torah was unrolled. The children were tasked with finding key words in the text. For some, this was the first time they had been up close to the Torah. After rolling up the Torah, families were led in a traditional Simchat Torah dance by Rabbi Ora and Marcy Epstein.

Beit Sefer students and families explored the Torah during Simchat Torah
Beit Sefer students created their own Torahs to celebrate Simchat Torah. Photo credit: Marcy Epstein

Later in the day, Rabbi Ora and Beit Sefer director Clare Kinberg welcomed new and prospective members at our “Meet Us” event, held to showcase Reconstructionism and our congregation. We are thrilled to welcome so many wonderful new families to our congregation!

Rabbi Ora leading our “Meet Us” event. Photo credit: Deborah Fisch
Clare Kinberg, Beit Sefer Director, teaching families about AARC’s Religious School

Another Renewing Sukkot Campout for AARC Families

Rabbi Ora shaking the Lulav with Beit Sefer Students on Sukkot

AARC families gathered this year on Carole’s farm to celebrate Sukkot. The campout began with a group effort to build the Sukkah. The children diligently created paper chains and tissue paper flowers while the parents and some older teens worked with hammers and nails.

AARC parents enjoying the fire after working hard to construct the Sukkah!

Once the Sukkah was complete, families enjoyed a cookout and a night under the stars!

On Sunday morning, Rabbi Ora joined in to bless the Sukkah, sing songs, and shake the lulav with the children and their families.

Beti Sefer students shaking the lulav and the etrog

The whole campout was a beautiful way to welcome in the New Year: with community, love, and the great outdoors!